Updated 5:30 p.m. EST
(Bloomberg) -- Police are conducting a criminal investigation after eight people in a Hollywood, Florida, nursing home died after Hurricane Irma knocked out power to the facility, as millions of utility customers were still without electricity following the storm’s sweep through the state.
Three of the victims were found dead at the nursing home and the others died on the way to the hospital or after they arrived there, Hollywood Police Chief Tom Sanchez said at a news conference.
After getting a call at 4 a.m. Wednesday that someone had died at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, police arrived to find it was extremely hot on the building’s second floor. In addition to fatalities, they found other residents who were gravely ill.
Dr. Randy Katz, the emergency room medical director at a hospital across the street from the nursing home, said they evacuated 115 patients and at least a dozen are being treated now. “Potentially” more people could die, he said. Victims were suffering from respiratory distress, dehydration and other heat-related injuries.
The state prosecutor and the agency that regulates nursing homes are both involved in the investigation, Sanchez said. Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief said government officials had requested that power companies prioritize senior citizen communities before the hurricane hit.
Facility not on critical, top priority list
Robert Gould, a spokesman for NextEra Energy Inc.’s Florida Power & Light, said utility representatives had met with Broward County officials in early March. “We worked with them. They identified which facilities were to be critical, top infrastructure facilities,” Gould said. “This was not one of them, unlike Memorial Regional Medical Hospital across the street, which is in service.”
Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich called FPL’s priorities “messed up” and criticized the company’s response broadly in the area, according to an Associated Press report. Broward press officials referred calls to Miguel Ascarrunz, director at Broward County’s emergency management division, who didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.
"The elderly depend on us for their care, and it’s especially sad when something like this happens," Katz, the doctor, told reporters.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement he would "aggressively demand answers" on what he called an “unfathomable” situation.
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